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England, England [Hardcover]

Julian Barnes
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 19 1998
Grotesque visionary Sir Jack Pitman has an idea. Since most people are too lazy to travel from landmark to landmark, why not simplify things and create a new England on the Isle of Wight?

Unfortunately, his idea is a huge success, and the resulting theme park threatens to supersede the original. Called England, England, it has all the elements of "Old England" in one convenient location. Wander into the new Sherwood Forest and you may spot Robin Hood and his now sexually ambiguous Merrie Men. Or take a stroll to see Stonehenge and Anne Hathaway's Cottage, enjoy a ploughman's lunch atop the White Cliffs of Dover, then pop over to see the Royals, now on contract to Sir Jack, in their scaled-down version of Buckingham Palace. Every detail has been considered: even the postcards come pre-stamped!

Julian Barnes' first novel in six years is a ferociously funny examination of the search for authenticity and truth in a fabricated world.

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Imagine being able to visit England--all of England--in a single weekend. Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Stonehenge and Hadrian's Wall, Harrods, Manchester United Football Club, the Tower of London, and even the Royal Family all within easy distance of the each other, accessible, and, best of all, each one living up to an idealized version of itself. This fantasy Britain is the very real (and some would say very cynical) vision of Sir Jack Pitman, a monumentally egomaniacal mogul with a more than passing resemblance to modern-day buccaneers Sir Rupert Murdoch or Robert Maxwell: "'We are not talking theme park,' he began. 'We are not talking heritage centre. We are not talking Disneyland, World's Fair, Festival of Britain, Legoland or Parc Asterix.'" No indeed; Sir Jack proposes nothing less than to offer "the thing itself," a re-creation of everything that adds up to England in the hearts and minds of tourists looking for an "authentic" experience. But where to locate such an enterprise? As Sir Jack points out,
England, as the mighty William and many others have observed, is an island. Therefore, if we are serious, if we are seeking to offer the thing itself, we in turn must go in search of a precious whatsit set in a silver doodah.
Soon the perfect whatsit is found: the Isle of Wight; and a small army of Sir Jack's forces are sent to lay siege to it. Swept up in the mayhem are Martha Cochrane, a thirtysomething consultant teetering on the verge of embittered middle age, and Paul Harrison, a younger man looking for an anchor in the world. The two first find each other, then trip over a skeleton in Sir Jack's closet that might prove useful to their careers but disastrous to their relationship. In the course of constructing this mad package-tour dystopia, Julian Barnes has a terrific time skewering postmodernism, the British, the press, the government, celebrity, and big business. At the same time his very funny novel offers a provocative meditation on the nature of identity, both individual and national, as the lines between the replica and the thing itself begin to blur. Readers of Barnes have learned to expect the unexpected, and once again he more than lives up to the promise in England, England. But then, that was only to be expected. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

The brilliantly playful author of Flaubert's Parrot and Cross Channel brings off a remarkable coup. He has imagined, with his customary wit, an England created especially for tourists, located on the Isle of Wight and equipped with all the essential elements of Englishness in their idealized form: Beefeaters, simple country policemen, village cricket matches, a Tower of London thoughtfully provided with a Harrod's store, reproductions of Robin Hood and his band, a Battle of Britain fought by period Spitfires every day, plenty of pubs and, of course, a miniature Buckingham Palace (the real king and queen have been put on salary and officiate at ceremonies as required). This is all the idea, and devising, of Sir Jack Pitman, one of those overwhelming robber barons of whom English novelists seem so fond. Heroine Martha Cochrane (who has been touchingly introduced in a brief opening chapter as a child) goes to work for him, and soon rises in his organization. Much of the book is a sparkling display of inventiveness as Barnes spoofs Englishry, big business and the fact that most tourists would sooner see an imitation in comfort than the real thing with some difficulty. Martha and her lover blackmail Sir Jack, who is caught in one of those bizarre sexual shenanigans that seem to appeal only to the English, and take over the ersatz England. Then the tables are turned, Martha is thrown out, and the book saunters into an exquisitely poignant coda that envisions a real England that has in effect withdrawn from the contemporary world to lovingly evoked rustic roots. The grace with which the novel's cynical laughter is made to shades into an emotion both dark and quiet is the product of writerly craft at a high pitch. Impossible to characterize adequately, but a rich pleasure on several very different levels, this surprising novel was a strong Booker candidate last year.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A utopia/dystopia unto itself Sept. 8 2001
This is my first trip through Barnes' oeuvre. I arrived believing him to be a more focussed but less talented and bitter version of Martin Amis. For once, the advanced hype was right. Not that being a low-rent Amis clone is anything to be ashamed of (and he's not really that, but it makes for an easy analogy), for Amis sets the bar so high, that anyone falling just short is really doing something quite good. Barnes is at that.
The book begins with a wonderful, almost tangential look at the childhood of our "heroine", Martha Cochrane. This section could have been set off by itself, and turned into a ripping good short story. We see her run-ins with a virtuoso bean grower at the county fair, a touching sequence where her Dad teases her by hiding one piece of a puzzle she's working on (it's a map of England, natch), and then an even more touching scene with her mother after said Dad has skipped town without a word. This section, while standing firmly on its own, also nicely sets up the themes of the rest of the book.
And that rest of the book is dominated by one Sir Jack Pitman, deity of Multi-national Corporation Pitco, raving patriot, and mastermind behind the Island of the book's title. Jack is a wonderful creation, all brash ego and blowhard posturing. He is at once supremely self-aware, and easily manipulated by his underlings, whom all know how to subtly push his buttons to give him what he wants and to get what they want. Witness him question his right hand man, a yes-man to the core, on Sir Jack's distaste for yes-man. The right hand man knows better and answers all questions in the negative. Sir Jack, bless his heart, chuckles, for he knows he's being had and adores the effort.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good idea, flawed execution July 27 2001
I enjoyed the premise of the book, given that England seems to be well on its way to becoming one big theme park, almost overflowing with so-called "experiences" to milk tourists. But Barnes doesn't quite deliver on the promise, although the writing is good and the book has its funny moments. I enjoyed the list of essential English traits and objects- only notable ommission was the Beatles (if I remember correctly). Having said this, the book is still worth reading, although I enjoyed The History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters more.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars HIGHLY ENTERTAINING READING Feb. 25 2004
By Gail Cooke TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Audio Cassette
Unfailingly entertaining British novelist Julian Barnes presents a hilarious premise in his eighth novel - what would happen if a mega rich prankster were to turn England into a theme park?
This mischievous satire presents an England on the brink of economic disaster, thus willing to go along with the splendiferous plot of Sir Jack Pitman who wants to recreate familiar historical places and scenes. The achievement of this goal may leave one wondering what is real and what is not.
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I bought England, England after watching an interview with Julian Barnes on French television. The commentator made it clear that, in her view, the English had received the book badly, being upset that somebody could mock their monarchy and their traditions. Being Manx (which is British, but NOT English) I couldn't wait to get my hands on the book, and sat feeling smug as the postman arrived.
I wasn't disappointed. Barnes lets rip at commercialisation, and at the outdated English acceptance of things they feel to be beyond their control. He portrays England as a Disneyland, with the prince (guess which one!) as one of the buffoon Mickey Mouse characters. Good for him - he hit that one right on the nose!
Whether or not the English didn't like England, England, I can't say (there are plenty of non-Monarchists over there), but the book was a worthy read and kept me giggling and guffawing for some days. Barnes' characterizations are somewhat mixed (some good, some less so) but his portrayal of 'Sir Jack' makes up for any shortcomings in that particular department.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Jurassic Park Meets Monty Python Jan. 13 2001
In Julian Barnes' extremely cynical work, England, England we find, not only terrific one-liners, but the finest example of that driest brand of wit so peculiar to the British Isles.
England, England tells the story of Sir Jack Pitman, an ambitious but clumsy business tycoon who entertains, to put it mildly, illusions (or could it be delusions) of grandeur.
A patriot in the extreme, Sir Jack gazes at his beloved England on the eve of the third millennium and is dismayed by what he sees: a tired and haggard Empire, one that has run its course and one on which the sun is just about to set for the very last time. As Sir Jack seeks to enliven both England and his own private empire, he hatches a novel idea.
England, Pitman decides, could and should, become the center of world tourism. The world may have become jaded, Sir Jack decides, but England, with its rich history and centuries of accumulated wisdom, still has much to offer. Rightly or wrongly, Sir Jack decides that tourists would be just as happy viewing an historical replica as they would the real thing. With this idea in mind, he sets out to create England, England on the Isle of Wight, a small island off the southern coast of England. England, England is no Disneyworld, however, replete with dizzying rides and silly cartoon characters, and as Sir Jack strives to recreate all that the United Kingdom has come to symbolize, he decides to open this lavish theme park only to those with the most pristine of credit ratings.
Pitman's assembled staff are quite an interesting mix. One of the best and, paradoxically, one of the worst, is Martha Cochrane, a cynical, bright and empty woman, hired specifically to elevate England, England to a level of absurdity previously unknown.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining vision of capitalism and marketing!
I would view this book like a sandwich with bread that has become a bit stale. Cut off the edges and you have a darn good meal. Read more
Published on May 6 2001 by Charles S. Jensen
1.0 out of 5 stars Dreadful, Dreadful
Barnes is cute, totally lacking in substance. The characters are thin, the plot silly and the writing pretentious. Read more
Published on March 6 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars Jurassic Park Meets Monty Python
In Julian Barnes' extremely cynical work, England, England we find, not only terrific one-liners, but the finest example of that driest brand of wit so peculiar to the British... Read more
Published on Jan. 6 2001 by Fiona McInerney
4.0 out of 5 stars Orlando, A Sovereign Nation�
A stretch perhaps, but as it approaches Rhode Island in size, Statehood may be the viable alternative. Read more
Published on Dec 13 2000 by taking a rest
5.0 out of 5 stars Serious, yet witty and humourous - a great read
Julian Barnes didn't impress me much with his first book, "Metroland", so it was with some scepticism and doubt that I started on his 1998 Booker Prize nominated... Read more
Published on Sept. 1 2000
5.0 out of 5 stars Reader
I could not trust the brief from the hard cover editions, If you want to compare nationalistm, there is MAUVEIS SANG from Arthur Rimbaud. Mr. Read more
Published on June 10 2000 by Edgar Cabrera G
2.0 out of 5 stars What Happened?
Like some other reviewers, I wonder if the middle of this novel got lost somewhere between writer and publisher. Read more
Published on April 30 2000 by S. Wheeler
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